We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019


José Luis Maldonado, Shaina Martinez, Amir Farid, Michael Celentano, Chantal Brundage, Christa Dalmazio,
Angela Candela, and Andrew King

We found out about Underground Salon's April Showcase quite by accident and we are so glad we did. Angela Candela is a young woman after our own heart; we share the same goals of fostering the careers of young singers. Her idea was to get together some friends and colleagues from Manhattan School of Music and to offer them a safe space to try out new repertory. No auditions, no competition, no judgments. What a great idea!

We were delighted to hear some of our favorite young singers in a different situation. All singers know, and Joyce DiDonato pointed this out several times in her master classes last weekend, that a safe non-judgmental space makes it possible to experiment. Surely breakthroughs happen when we experiment with something new!

We would like to point out at the very start how effective it is when the singers introduce themselves and tell what they will be singing. In this salon, they went even further and told a little about the aria they would be singing and its place in the opera. They all spoke clearly and we appreciated it.

Baritone José Luis Maldonado is well known to us; indeed he was selected to sing a set of Spanish songs for the April 29th concert at St. John's in the Village--"Around the World in Song". But on Sunday we heard him sing in Russian! The selection was "Ja vas lyublyu" from Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame and we were mightily impressed.

What strikes one about Mr. Maldonado is the kind of generosity of spirit that we haven't seen since Pavarotti. The sound is generous and so is his presence. There is a magnificent connection with both the aria and the audience; one experiences him as a conduit and feels the feelings so intensely that one might overlook the superiority of his technique.

One might call him a "stage animal". There is no holding back; it's all "out there", witness his performance of Billy's soliloquy from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel which proved to our satisfaction that this work is truly an American opera, far more than the tuneless pieces we have been sitting through lately. The texture and resonance of his instrument combined with the way in which he employs them, make for a thrilling listening experience.

In terms of "trying out new material", the prize goes to soprano Shaina Martinez who took a risk with "Ombre pallide" from Händel's Alcina. The reason it was a risk was that a teacher once told her that her voice wasn't suited to Händel.  We think that's a tutelary error to tell a student something like that. The best singing comes when one sings a song one truly wants to sing. We heard that advice years ago in a master class and couldn't agree more.

Ms. Martinez performed this difficult Baroque aria with complete investment, passion, and connection. She tossed off the ornamentation with style but also handled the low notes effectively. We would like to cheer on her rebellious spirit (or "phase", as she called it). Please, singers, don't let other people tell you who you are!

Ms. Candela herself won our admiration for her performance of "Mi tradi" from Mozart's Don Giovanni. There was an effective contrast between the recitativo and the aria and an admirable connection with the character of Donna Elvira. If the work wasn't 100% stage-ready, that was not a problem. It's a work in progress but we have high hopes for the finished product.

Her pretty instrument was evident in "Hear Ye Israel" from Mendelssohn's oratorio Elijah. But oratorio, religion, and English are not our favorite things so we far preferred the Mozart.

Chantal Brundage performed "Robert, toi que j'aime" from Act IV of Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable. This underrated and underperformed composer seems to write well for the voice and Ms. Brundage employed her excellent resources to convey the emotions of the character, and she did so in fine French which we had no problem understanding. Her tone at the upper end of the register is beautifully brilliant. 

Christa Dalmazio has a sparkly soprano matched by a sparkling personality that was just perfect for "Poor Wand'ring One" from Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance. There was personality to spare and pretty good English enunciation but at such a high tessitura, one cannot get all the words.

However, in the "Silver Aria" from Douglas Moore's Ballad of Baby Doe, she made every word clear and captured the character of Baby Doe. 

Tenor Michael Celentano sang "Addio fiorito asil" from Puccini's Madama Butterfly with more grandstanding than subtlety. We want more variety from him--variety of color, dynamics, and pacing. His instrument is a large one and a promising one and when he gets it under control there will still be more than enough volume. We want him to forget about making big sounds and to try getting inside the character.

The same comments could be made about his portrayal of Rodolfo in the Act IV duet "O Mimi, tu piu non torni" in which Mr. Maldonado took the part of Marcello.

Supportive piano accompaniment was given to the hands of Amir Farid and Andrew King--both of whom are superb.

We are hoping there will be a May Showcase and that we will be available to attend. It was a truly exciting experience!

(c) meche kroop

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